Promoting Yourself With Nothing to Promote I: Promoting YOU

I don’t really remember when I heard that authors ought to jump on the band wagon early when it comes to promoting their books–as in, before they even have a book in hand to promote. But somewhere down the pike, I did get the memo, and now I’m up to my elbows in daily promo efforts–blogging, social media, interviews–and my first book has yet to come out!

The obvious question is, of course, how do you promote yourself before you have anything to promote? 

I’ll be exploring that question over the course of my next four blog posts, which you can find here every Wednesday during September.

Why Do I Need to Promote My Books?

We’re stripping this thing down to the gears. Some of you may be saying, “Wait. Promo? I didn’t sign up for that. I’m a writer, not a marketing expert!”

If you’re writing for your own pleasure, then don’t break a sweat. You don’t even need to be reading this. Elope with your muse and know that everyone who has decided to finish reading this article envies you on a certain level.

However, a significant number of authors dream of sharing their words with total strangers in exchange for the latter party’s hard-earned cash. Some of us even want to make a living doing it. (Guilty here.)

For anyone wanting to make a profit off their words, here’s the big surprise: That’s called “Going into business.” Not that you have to kiss your muse goodbye. (God forbid.) But in addition to establishing Your Dream Office and mulling over coffee in your bunny slippers, you have to adopt some business attitude.

Like marketing. Also known as promo. The truth is, no product sells itself. The reason is simple: There may be millions of people out there wiling and eager to buy your product … but if they’ve never so much as heard about it, they can’t buy it.

And it doesn’t matter if your product is bath soap, sports cars, or novels. Same rule applies. If nobody knows about it, nobody can buy it. 

I Don’t Have to Market My Book–I’m Publishing Traditionally

It’s pretty obvious that indie authors like Carrie and me have to bear the full brunt of the promo load. That’s the trade-off for reaping the lion’s share of the profits: We also have to do the horse’s share of the work: layout, design, editing … promo.

But what if you plan to put your book out through a traditional publisher?

I have no personal experience in this area. All I can tell you is what I hear everywhere I go:

  1. Trad publishers expect you to take an active part in promoting your own book; the part of your proposal outlining how you plan to promote yourself will be of deep interest.
  2. Publishers are increasingly interested in authors who already have a loyal following of ready buyers.

Catch that? Even trad publishers are asking you to have an audience before you even finish your book. Before you even pitch it to them.

In a nutshell: If you want to be both a published and a profitable author, you need to make peace with promo. In this present literary era, marketing comes with the job.

But I Don’t Have Anything to Promote Yet

Ah, now we get to the meat of things. How are you supposed to start promoting yourself before you have anything to promote?

But you do have something! Yourself. Read between the lines of the title of this blog series: “Promoting Yourself  with Nothing to Promote.”

I’m sure you’ll readily admit that your books are an extension of yourself. On a certain level, when a reader picks up one of your books, they are meeting you. When you sell one of your books, you are offering a little part of you.

Self-promotion for authors is all about letting your readership get to know the person behind the book. They meet you (say on Twitter or your blog), they like you, they want to get to know you better–so what is the logical thing to do? They buy your book. They buy that little bit of you that you’ve made available to anyone who wants to get to know you better.

Tada! Blows your “nothing to promote” argument clean out of the water, doesn’t it? You have you to promote! And you’re pretty much an expert on you.

How Much of You and What Parts?

Obviously, you need to decide how much of you you want to share. That’s a personal decision for every author. I happen to be pretty transparent. I’ve discovered that my books are so intimately tied to my personal life, I can’t talk about them without talking about me–my lost childhood, my search for the definition of real family, my longing to finally have one of my own. I have yet to work on a book that didn’t spring directly from those roots, so I’ve made the decision to be frank: I’m writing about me, folks.

You may not be comfortable being that transparent. And in fact, your books may have little to do with your private life. No problem. Find what you do  want to talk about. Pretend you’re going to the largest book convention in the world and decide what you want to talk about. All these people you’re about to bump into–what do you want them to know about you? 

That’s what you should blog and tweet about. That’s what you should talk about. That’s the you that you should promote.

So why are you still hesitating?

That’s what we’ll talk about in next Wednesday’s post–the fears that keep us from putting ourselves out there, especially when we have no book to show off yet.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss any of the posts in this four-part series, feel free to subscribe! You’ll get a free copy of Carrie’s delightful read, Writing a Novel Is Like Walking a Cat. See you next week!

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